All posts for the month March, 2019

31 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Joshua 5, 9-12 + Psalm 34 +2 Corinthians 5, 17-21 + Luke 15, 1-3 & 11-32

We have just proclaimed familiar and much-loved verses from Luke’s Gospel. It is a complex story that explores much more than the dynamics of the human family. It is study inviting us to reflect upon freedom, duty, and love. Those two sons are really good people who in many ways reflect the reality of our lives, all of us. We are one or the other, or perhaps even a combination of both. The younger one lives his freedom. He leaves home when he chooses, and he returns when he chooses without a thought about how anyone else might feel about it. His older brother lives his duty. He serves loyally without complaint asking nothing in return.

It is easy to look down on the younger son. His disrespect comes through as he squanders what the father and probably the older son have worked to save. His return home is hardly admirable. He goes back because he’s hungry without a thought about what pain he has caused anyone else. His brother is no shining example of virtue in spite of his loyalty and the duty with which he has worked. He may never have complained, but you can hear his resentment. He does what is right as a way of gaining his father’s approval, not for some higher ideal like love. The return of his brother reveals his shallowness as he sees his brother receive on the easiest terms the affirmation and affection he wanted and worked to receive. Both of them are lost. They have habits that cut them off from others. Between them stands the father who lives with freedom and with duty because he lives with love. He is free of attachments to things which he generously gives away to someone who has not deserved it. He is free to forgive everything and welcome back this son. He knows what is more important, his son of the squandered stuff. At the same time, lives with a sense of duty when he leaves the celebration to speak with the older son who is outside pouting and angry. He knows that this one needs his love as well, maybe even more at that moment.

In a recent film called, “The Green Book” that many of us have seen, there is a line spoken that touched me deeply. In speaking to the musician who has revealed that he is estranged from his brother, the tough chauffer says: “The world is full of lonely people just waiting for someone else to make the first move.” My friends, God has made the first move in sending his son who waits for us all who stand outside alone in shame or resentment. Either way, the promise has been spoken: “All I have is yours.” It is a stunning promise made to all of us who sometimes feel resentment or anger when someone gets more than we think they deserve. We must remember and tell this story over and over again to remind ourselves of that promise remembering as we do that freedom and duty both serve a higher purpose that can get lost when they are exercised without love. Only those who turn all things toward love will be able to welcome back those who are lost and enter the joyful celebration that is the Kingdom of God. 

24 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Exodus 3, 1-8, 13-15 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 10, 1-6, 10-12 + Luke 13, 1-9

2:45 pm Saturday – Saint William Parish

Today, Luke calls them, “some people”; and we know how that goes. Some people say this, and some people say that, and some people told me something about someone I know and I can’t believe what some people are saying these days. On and on it goes. It’s always some people, and sometimes we are some people. In this case, they are coming to Jesus with a rumor about a man they all hated, Pilot. Was it true or not? No one really knows. There is not one hint in all of history that would confirm that Pilot ever did what they said. It’s all a trap to draw Jesus into a no – win situation. With it, they raise the age-old question about why bad things happen to good people. Jesus says not a word about that. Religion does not offer any answer to that question. It simply offers us Jesus, who shows us with his life how it ends when bad things happen to good people like him.

He twists their little trap around with a question that catches them off guard. He speaks about something that really did happen, a construction accident that killed innocent people asking them if they thought those innocent ones were being punished, and suddenly some people have nothing more to say as he points out that death can come any way at any time, and what matters is that one be prepared and that preparation he calls “repentance”. We pick up this Gospel almost half-way through Lent as a reminder that these are our days for repentance, and time is running out. We are all one week closer to our death than we were last weekend.

What is happening with us is addressed by the second part of this passage. Even a passing glance at this world ought to make obvious that as disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ, we have not born much fruit like that fig tree which is takes up precious water and exhausts the soil producing nothing. In an age when ethics, Gospel values, and morality are brushed aside by ambition and power, when fidelity and truth are mocked as fake for the sake of one’s own greed, when human life and this earth which has been given to our care are destroyed for the sake of convenience and immediate pleasures we cannot ignore a call to repentance which simply change: a change of heart, a change of thinking, and change of behavior.

The life of Jesus Christ demonstrates how human beings can live in communion with God, no matter what circumstances may come. For those with ears to hear, Jesus presents himself today as the gardener who is giving us just a little more time to bear fruit before being cut down.

17 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Genesis 15, 5-12, 17-18 + Psalm27 + Philippians 3,17 to 4, 1 + Luke 9, 28-36

Saturday, March 16 at Saint Peter the Apostle

Now, as we put the pieces together, we have to realize this: Peter has previously made his profession of faith, just a few verses earlier at Caesarea Phillip. This is not about them. It is not an experience that reveals the identity of Jesus. That has already been taken care of by Peter. This experience is for Jesus, and it is for his sake that it happens. So, we have Peter, James, and John. These are the three apostles that Mark tells us were with Jesus in the Garden of Olives after the Last Supper. That connects with the piece that tells us what Jesus was doing; praying. When we add the next piece, the location, we should be getting the picture: it’s on a hill. To make sure we don’t get confused, Luke does not name the hill. Finally, there are two people on either side of Jesus. In today’s Gospel, they are Moses and Elijah. In the scene we are putting together with these pieces, they are two thieves who really have no names in the Gospels. When we put these pieces together, we have an image of the Passion and Death of Jesus that can lead us to conclude that what is being revealed is for the sake of Jesus. This experience is given to Jesus to encourage and strengthen him for what lies ahead. It is as though the Father tells the Son how his experience on the other hill will really end, with him being gloriously present to the Father in the company of the great ones, Moses and Elijah. Obviously, it works and is enough to keep him going all the way to Jerusalem and to that other hill top.

Today we have a puzzle, and we have to put the pieces together. When we do, a wonderful and hope-filled revelation lies before us. One piece is who among the apostles is there. Another piece is where this takes place. A third piece is Jesus at prayer. A fourth piece is Moses and Elijah, and the fifth piece is what is said by the voice.

Proclaiming this Gospel, early in Lent raises the hope that those of us who are found in prayer will be strengthened and encouraged enough by this revelation to keep us going all the way not just all the way to Easter Sunday, but all the way on to the day when we too shall be so gloriously transfigured and be found among the saints. If it is so for Jesus, God’s Son, so it shall be for all of God’s children, especially to those who listen to him. For as Saint Paul says today: we will be “changed to conform with his glorified body”. It is this promise, this image, revealed to us today that should keep us moving forward in this life and this season never discouraged or fearful about what lies ahead even if it is painful, tough and frightening. Jesus knew he would be betrayed and those who opposed him would gather their forces to stop him, but the Father gave him this insight into how it would really end to keep him going. There is no reason to think it would be any different for all of us who listen to his word, who are faithful in prayer, and who trust in his mercy.

10 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Deuteronomy 26, 4-10 + Psalm 91 + 2 Romans 10, 8-13 + Luke 4, 1-13

Saturday 3:30pm Mass St. Peter Church

It is Luke’s turn to open Lent for us this year, and he takes us into the desert as do Matthew and Mark in previous years. With Matthew, it is all about the identity of Jesus. In the simple two verses Mark devotes to this, it’s about the Spirit that leads Jesus. Now with Luke it is something else. These verses from Luke are not about Jesus. Luke’s focus is temptation. So, there is no point in sitting back and examining or admiring how skillful Jesus is in the face of temptation. We have to step into this Gospel and look carefully at these temptations Luke thinks are the most significant and perhaps the most dangerous for disciples of Jesus Christ.

What Jesus confronts in that desert is what we confront in the wilderness of this life. The response of Jesus to these temptations reveals how we must respond, because we are there with him. The temptation of isolating self-sufficiency seduces us again and again to believe that our needs and our wants can all be satisfied by our own ambitions and schemes. It sets us in competition with others for what we imagine to be a limited number of resources. “Take care of number one” is a mantra that isolates us from others, builds walls, and cultivates the fear that there is never enough to go around. That fear itself morphs into the second temptation with a desire to be free from danger, safe, and secure. In the face of such temptation comes a reminder that God is the only one who can protect. Then the third and perhaps most dangerous of temptation we must face, the allure of power, the power to rule the world, the desire to stand on the world stage in splendor being admired and accepted, respected and honored willing to sacrifice everything to be accepted and liked.

We have forty days in this desert season. Forty days to carefully examine our lives to remember the Providence of God who feeds and leads those in the wilderness of this life. We have forty days to look again at the fears lurking everywhere suggesting that God will not protect and save those who live in covenant. We have forty days to forget about being liked, accepted, noticed, and admired. We have begun a time of purification, a season of renewal, a time for pruning away whatever does not bear fruit. It is perhaps a time to take ourselves less seriously and take God more seriously, a time to look around and admit that we are not the center of the universe, and that alone we can do nothing. In this desert, like the people of Israel, we are drawn closer together, bound up in faith and in hope, humbly remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Our best hope is that we shall emerge from this desert as a faithful people, a church more clearly and courageously bearing the light of Christ, living with confidence that God’s providence lifts all the fears of our lives freeing us to live with compassion, with joy, and peace.

6 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5, 20-6,2 + Matthew 6,1-6 16-18

12:00 Noon St. Peter the Apostle Church

As I have watched this date on the calendar draw near since Christmas, I have had countless memories of Lent’s gone by, and all the things I did and didn’t do to make the days go faster. Now at my age, there is an urge to slow things down. Days, weeks, and months fly by faster than I ever imagined. It seems like I just finished write thank-you notes for Christmas gifts two weeks ago! Those of us older than 70 will probably can remember Lent as a much more severe season than it is today. The fasting was more of a challenge. It was expected every day, not just today and Good Friday. Abstinence was an everyday thing, not just on Fridays. I think part of my girth is due to macaroni and cheese, and to this day I shy away from salmon patties! We gave up things like candy or alcohol for something else we really liked, and we did every day. We went to church more either to Daily Mass or Stations of the Cross. To this day I can hum or even play the Stabat Mater without looking. Since we have been encouraged to do positive things, many don’t give up much anymore, and so people do not find life much different during Lent than any other season. It still disturbs me a bit when parishes schedule dances, weddings, and parties during Lent. With all of that in our past, there is still the fact that Lent asks more us today as we have grown older and deeper in faith. We are now expected to accept adult for our spiritual growth.

Instead of being told how much fasting we must do and when, we are expected to take fasting seriously and do more than the minimum. That’s adult behavior. As kids we were always looking for the minimum requirement. We are not children any more in case you have not noticed. We’re old, at least most of us in this parish. We are also invited to abstain more seriously. Giving up meat and then ordering lobster is a joke that spiritually isn’t funny. What adults need to do is give up something that might be sinful or wasteful or extravagant. It isn’t just food. It is whatever keeps us from growing closer to Christ. When given up, it isn’t just for 40 days or the 960 hours I once counted up as child. The point is, we give it up for good.

Those Bishops at the Council most of us lived through decided to take a risk and to risk treating us like adults. While they removed many of the old rules, there was in place a challenge to observe this season with great seriousness, to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth which is a lot harder than just following a lot of rules. Now comes the potential of really making Lent a time to change our lives and become much more like Christ.

As you come forward shortly to accept the challenge through an ancient ritual, let it be a sign of true commitment to take this Lent seriously allowing the grace of God to truly change us in the next 40 days. Remember how the Lord called us through the words of the Prophet Joel at the beginning of this Eucharist: “Return to me with your whole heart.” The longing of God for us is never ending. Listen and respond this Lent as you never before.

3 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Sirach 27, 4-7 + Psalm 92 + 1 Corinthians 15, 54-58 + Luke 6, 39-45


Baseball was once called, “The National Pastime.” It seems to me that this description assumes that there is leisure time to be passed. In the busy world of these days, there isn’t much time to pass, so baseball has become a big business in itself, and a way to advertise and sell lots of things we really don’t need. In place of baseball, there is a new pastime that has caught on everywhere. I call it, “The Blame Game.” From the great halls of political power to our classrooms and homes, we are perfecting the art of blame. Everything is someone else’s fault. Unless, of course, if it is something good, then we did it.

As Jesus continues the formation program for his disciples this weekend, it becomes clear to any of us that what he has proposed the last two weeks when speaking about the “Blessed” ones is that children of God are a people who have integrated lives in which the heart and the mouth are in synch. In other words, what is said by disciples comes from a heart that is in “synch” or “in tune” with God’s heart, and what they do matches what they say. It’s all integrated: the heart, the mouth, the deeds. Achieving that comes from realizing that the Gospel is given to us as a guide for our own lives not as a judgement tool to use on others.

There is a terrible, violent scene in a movie called: “Boy Erased” during which a group of “Gospel inspired” reformers are punishing a young man who is gay and by their judgement is a sinner. They beat him with Bibles. Later in the film, he takes his own life. The viewer is left to wonder who has the greater sin. There is a kind of pseudo religion going around that tries to make other people better, but real religion just makes one’s self better, that’s all there is to it. And that is the kind of religion in which you find Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Those of us who wish to be disciples of Jesus are not called to be critics. We must embrace the goodness with which we are blessed and gaze upon the world to behold what is good in humanity. Those who look upon the world with the eye of a critic find only the image of themselves. It’s as though they are always looking in a mirror. Perhaps that is the way it works in a narcissistic world, but we are citizens of something not of this world. Once our hearts are open to others, we discover good in them, even when it is hidden. I know it is true in my own life. The greatest people who touched me most deeply paid no attention to my faults and weaknesses; but encouraged, acknowledged, and enabled my best gifts. That is exactly what Jesus did with that rag-tag group of fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. It is also, exactly what he is still doing with us. How could we possibly not learn the lesson that from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks?